Taylor urges legislators to drop abortion fight

In ad-libbed remarks, House speaker pleads for spirit of tolerance

January 14, 1999|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr., a longtime opponent of abortion, urged legislators yesterday to abandon the effort to fight it through legislation, saying, "The whole country is tired of fighting about that."

Taylor's comments came in an ad-libbed address in which he made an impassioned plea for a spirit of tolerance in "One Maryland." In a subsequent interview, he said he believes that Gov. Parris N. Glendening is doing the right thing by seeking legislation to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination.

In his speech, which pleased liberal Democrats and dismayed conservative Republicans, Taylor also endorsed the idea of a regional tax system to save Baltimore from being economically "strangled." Such a proposal would face severe opposition in suburban counties.

The speaker said Baltimore's growth has been restricted to a far smaller area than most large American cities because of racial tensions between the majority black city and its mostly white suburbs. "If anyone thinks one of the huge problems of Baltimore City is not racism, they believe in the tooth fairy," he said.

His comments on abortion surprised people on both sides of the issue.

Previously a reliable vote against abortion rights, Taylor said opponents should accept that the procedure is legal and would remain so. He suggested that the best avenue for curbing the "horrible destruction" of abortion lies outside the political arena. "You don't do it by passing laws. You do it by persuading one another and educating one another," he said.

Taylor said his newfound opposition to such legislation includes efforts to ban so-called "partial birth" abortions and to curb Medicaid coverage of abortions for poor women.

Taylor's decision brought a scornful reaction from anti-abortion activists. "How can you believe very strongly in something and not try to enact legislation to further your beliefs?" said Del. Anthony J. O'Donnell, a Calvert County Republican.

O'Donnell said Taylor's opening-day speech "took a 90-degree turn to the left." Del. Donald E. Murphy, a Baltimore County Republican, said Taylor "sounded like he was running for the Democratic nomination for governor."

Liberals, including some past critics of the speaker, applauded Taylor's remarks -- which included warm praise for Glendening, whom he once considered challenging. "I'm very pleased to hear him giving such a strong Democratic message," said Del. Elizabeth Bobo of Howard County.

Taylor, who hails from the conservative wing of the party, said he re-evaluated some of his positions as part of a "personal journey."

"I have made up my mind that the only way we can solve all these programs I'm talking about is to `think outside the box,' " he said.

He said yesterday's was the first opening-day address in which he put aside his prepared remarks.

Afterward, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke stopped in Taylor's office "just to let you see my smiling face."

"I don't think anyone anticipated that type of speech," Schmoke said. "I thought it was both unifying and inspiring."

Pub Date: 1/14/99

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